On the Politifact Facebook page, a post entices readers to check out a PolitiFact article with the following blurb:
As John McCain is laid to rest, we remember one of his major legacies: opposing torture.
I’m also generally-speaking, opposed to torture. As was President Bush. As was Donald Rumsfeld. As was James Mitchell. So too, more than likely, Gina Haspel. What I wasn’t against is “torture”, as carried out under the CIA Rendition, Interrogation and Detention program.
One of McCain’s most notable causes was opposing the use of torture, an issue that came to the fore during the Iraq War when the Bush administration interrogated terrorist suspects and people captured in Iraq. At times, some accused McCain of wavering when he didn’t vote in favor of specific proposals.
But PolitiFact examined McCain’s votes and public comments and found no evidence that he ever softened his opposition. He earned a No Flip on our Flip-O-Meter.
McCain continued to speak against torture in 2018, when he opposed Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as head of the CIA. (Haspel was confirmed and now serves.)
In a May 2018 statement, McCain said:
“I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”
Well, what happened to John McCain wasn’t the same thing that happened to 119 HVD in the CIA program (of which only 33-38 had received one or more EITs at any point in their detention and interrogation).
EITs weren’t meant to work in the same manner as “torture”. It wasn’t the same purpose as torture techniques. Questions weren’t asked during EIT sessions that the interrogator didn’t already know the answers to. Their purpose was to induce a state of hopelessness and cooperation so that information-gathering could occur during debriefing.
No question that some of the EITs were harsh. Why were they called up at all? Because for a third of these HVD, SITs were insufficient. Some of these jihadis had received interrogation resistance training and knew how to defeat common methods, like the rapport-building techniques favored by Ali Soufan and the FBI to achieve confessions for the sake of criminal prosecutions- not for the purpose of timely, actionable intell-gathering. So at a time when there was a great deal of intell buzz regarding a second wave of attacks (KSM: “Soon you will know”), EITs were called up by the CIA (others were approved of for military usage; but waterboarding wasn’t one of them). James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen favor social influence techniques in 99% of cases. Mitchell believes some techniques used by others (by military interrogators and some CIA interrogators who were actually not a part of the RDI program setup by Mitchell and Jessen) were never approved; and were wrongfully applied to mid-level and low-level terrorists/detainees.
Btw, for those who like to cite McCain as the moral authority on torture because he experienced REAL torture: McCain was never waterboarded by the CIA. CIA waterboarding sessions (only 3 HVD were ever waterboarded, with KSM being the last one in March or April of 2003), in purpose and in execution, were vastly different than the water torture often alluded to by those Japanese officers who were prosecuted in WWII for a host of crimes.
I believe the fact that McCain was brutally tortured for 5 yrs of captivity distorted his ability to objectively and rationally see the CIA program for what it is and not for how it was perceived; how it actually operated and functioned- which was not a rogue, out-of-control operation that wantonly “tortured”. McCain is seeing it with his emotions; not his head, imo- BECAUSE of his nightmarish experience at the hands of his Viet Cong captors. McCain’s personal connection is precisely what makes him a uniquely unreliable witness.
Someone who doesn’t share his opinion on CIA waterboarding but whom you will not find cited by the critics is Leo Thorsness, who also recently passed a year or two ago.
George Everett Day, Leo Thorsness, Jeremiah Denton are highly decorated war veterans and former POWs who experienced REAL torture at the hands of their Viet Cong captors. They scoff at the notion that what the CIA subjected 33-38 HVD to amounts to the definition of “torture”.
There is some honest arguments on whether or not EITs arise to a definition of “torture”. However, it’s a far cry from “real” torture like pulling off fingernails, beating, breaking bones, drilling holes, etc. And if one is going to cite McCain as backup to the torture narrative, then it’s only fair to mention POWs like him who disagree with him.
Godspeed, Senator Mccain. Hopefully I disagreed without being disagreeable or disrespecting or discounting your personal experience as a 5.5 year POW. I do not take that lightly. Unimaginable…
McCain’s WaPo Op-Ed on the Tortured Debate Over EITs
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.
I disagree with McCain’s assessment that EIT’s are torture. I believe torture is more like described above. Hanging by arms behind your back, drilling holes through the body or limbs, pulling teeth or fingernails, etc. I am ok with using EIT’s because it does no permanent damage while usually getting the info you want. I am not against talking to ‘the enemy’ as long as you don’t give them information that can interfere with operations or cause harm to other persons. And I’ll use my usual example. You have a kidnapped child and that child was buried with a 12 hour air supply, you would and should torture, up to actually killing, someone to get the info to save that child. If you would do what you had to do to save YOUR child, just remember that everyone is someone’s child. While my main disagreement with McCain is his denial of the truth and his deliberate interfering with the safe return of hundreds of POWs after the war, I have no problem with him making his Hanoi Songbird Albums as I’ve not heard anything on them that would ‘help the enemy’. In fact, probably his making the recordings, may have even helped some other POWs. The main thing I don’t like about McCain is that he’s just from a political point of view, A total Asshole.
In comparison, I would argue that what was done to General Flynn was torture, just not physical. He was interviewed by FBI agents and they determined he was truthful. However, Mueller needed a guilty verdict and pressure on someone to corroborate his pre-determined outcomes, so he filed charges against Flynn and threatened to pursue his son; MENTAL torture. General Flynn was TORTURED into pleading guilty to something he didn’t do to satisfy a leftist political need. The left cheers this and screams for more torture to make people say what they want to hear.
One wonders what other position McCain could have taken on EITs without being accused of hypocrisy? He could have supported the interrogations and, with his personal insight, explain the differences between the two, but he took the easy route.